Techonology and my law practice

Becky Guiles of Boundless Media recently asked me to post a guest blog about my usage of technology in my law practice. If you would like to read that click here  

I have always been a tech geek. I think that technology has only increased the ability to practice law. I know it has made me more accessible to my clients, which is good. It has broadened my reach so that I am able to represent clients throughout New York State far easier than I could before.

Skype has been a blessing for this type of representation for it allows face to face conversations with clients no matter where they are.

In my view technology in my practice is definitely a blessing.

Superbowl can be Super Expensive

This Sunday, the New York Giants will take on the New England Patriots in Superbowl XVI.

It is a  great time to enjoy the finality of the football season with friends and family. Share some drinks, eat some food and watch the game or the ads, whichever is your pleasure.

However, please make sure that if you are drinking, don’t drive. The Syracuse newspapers have already published an article saying that there will be roadblocks throughout Syracuse this weekend.  A DWI can have enormous personal implications.

Generally a DWI is charged as a misdemeanor which means it is  a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail. Additionally, fines and surcharges are added on to this charge and conviction. Further (at least in Onondaga County) an alcohol evaluation to determine if there is a problem requiring further treatment is required. Even if a favorable disposition is negotiated, insurance rate increases and suspension of your driving privileges will result.

If you own a bar, you too can be held liable if someone injures an individual through a DWI.

Through laws called the Dram Shop Act, restaurants and bars can be held liable for over serving a customer when that customer causes an accident and injures himself or others. It is extremely important that as a bar owner or bartender you monitor the consumption of your customers. While some owners feel it is not their place to “babysit” their customers, it is far better than losing the ability to sell and serve alcohol.

So, whether you are out with friends for the Superbowl or own the business they are in, just remember what Sarge said on Hill Street Blues:

Be careful out there.

Phone Calls and Email Policy

One of the biggest complaints about lawyers is that as a profession we don’t return telephone calls and ignore emails from our clients or potential clients. This practice if true, is one that is disrespectful to the client and other members of our profession.

My policy is to try to return calls or emails within 5 hours. I never want a client to feel that their matter is being ignored or that they are not important to me. While there are times that I will refrain from taking calls during the day, I always set aside time both in the morning and afternoon to respond to telephone calls and emails. In that respect, the client can have a connection with me quickly, and if I need time to review or research a matter before giving a definitive answer I will let the client know.

Staying accessible to the client is important. That is why my Iphone is linked to my office email and if I am out of the office for an extended time my phone is forwarded to my cell so that the client does not feel unimportant.  Not only is knowledge of the law an important factor for a good attorney but so is being available to respond to their needs, questions and thoughts.

Todd Engel

New No Fault Divorce Bill becomes effective in New York

On August 16 Governor David Patterson signed into law three bills that will change the landscape of matrimonial law in New York State. The reason it is important now is that they become effective on October 16th so planning needs to be taken now.

The first bill provided that there is an additional cause of action in New York providing for No Fault Divorce. The second bill will allow the Court additional opportunities to examine maintenance issues. The final bill provides for interim attorneys fees so that the monied spouse is responsible for interim fees during the course of matrimonial litigation and that the nonmonied spouse is not at a disadvantage due to their lack of financial ability to afford what can be mounting and daunting legal fees.

The bill getting the most attention is the addition o a no fault cause of action. This brings New York in line with the other 49 states n the country allowing for a divorce to end for no certifiable reason. The benefit to this cause of action is that when parties are just no longer compatible they can get a divorce without creating additional pain that existed under the previous causes of action. It means that people don’t have to create language that fits within cruel and inhuman treatment.  Ultimately it will allow for people to eliminate some of the acrimony generally viewed in a fight over cause.

The second bill passed deals with the examination of maintenance or spousal support both on a temporary and permanent basis. This will allow the courts to examine specific factors in setting temporary maintenance.  Maintenance is important and sometimes vital to to keep the non-monied spouse  in the same lifestyle and have the same financial stability that was available prior to the break up of the marriage.

The third bill provides for interim counsel fees when there is a financial disparity between the parties. One of the fundamental aspects  of litigation is that attorneys need to be paid! The financial ability for one side to pay or not pay should not be a detriment to the ability to be represented in a divorce. This will allow for both parties to get proper and adequate representation during a matrimonial action. This will equal the playing field so that the party with money doesn’t bury the one without in legal fees.

Todd Engel

Need for Estate Planning

Need for Estate Planning

I do not intend to be Chicken Little with this post. However in 2011 unless Congress acts to extend the estate tax credit all estates over $1,000,000 in value will be taxed at 55% of the entire value. This means that many people who previously would have had few estate tax issues presently need to examine planning options to protect their assets for their heirs.

That means that If planning has not already begun, the clock is ticking. What do you need to do in order to be ready?

The first thing you need to do is determine what your net worth is. Compile your account statements as well as your real estate holdings. The combination of these two basic totals will give you an initial basis of your basic net worth. If you are a business owner a valuation of your interest n the business will be necessary to include in the calculation. Once your net worth is established it is imperative to sit with an estate planning attorney to determine how to preserve your assets

When you sit with your estate planning attorney make sure you bring with you your net worth documentation so that the planner may review the assets to determine what else may be included in the calculations. That will make sure all information is available to make the best plan for you and your family ensuring the assets you worked hard to obtain will be able to be there for your children.

The estate planning attorney will explain the various options for you. They will start talking about different trust vehicles that may fit your needs. Listen carefully and understand certain trusts will divest you as the earner of this income of control of the assets. Others will allow you to maintain control but may lose certain benefits to you. Each individual’s circumstance is extremely specific so meet with your planner to best determine your need and the right planning to protect your assets as well as ensure your family is able to enjoy what you have worked hard to attain rather than the US government.

Todd Engel
[email protected]
http://www.engelatty.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/toddengel

New York No Fault Divorce

It appears that the New York Legislature in its final days may have acted positively towards one subject: divorce.

It appears that the New York Legislature in its final days may have acted positively towards one subject: divorce. New York was the last state that required fault in order to grant a divorce. This meant that a divorce could only be granted if one of four grounds were met: cruel and inhuman treatment, abandonment, adultery or constructive abandonment. The parties had to admit to grounds and often times led to the parties making statements that might not have been entirely accurate in order to obtain the resolution desired. Now under the new law parties seeking a divorce would have to state that for the preceding six months the marriage was not able to reconcile. This makes fault and acrimony between the parties less of an issue. Despite this the issues of custody, maintenance, child support and equitable distribution will continue to need to be resolved. The hope is that this will allow for an easier process for those parties seeking a divorce. Now the Governor needs to sign this legislation that has passed both houses. Todd Engel [email protected] www.engelatty.com”>
New York was the last state that required fault in order to grant a divorce. This meant that a divorce could only be granted if one of four grounds were met: cruel and inhuman treatment, abandonment, adultery or constructive abandonment. The parties had to admit to grounds and often times led to the parties making statements that might not have been entirely accurate in order to obtain the resolution desired.

Now under the new law parties seeking a divorce would have to state that for the preceding six months the marriage was not able to reconcile. This makes fault and acrimony between the parties less of an issue.

Despite this the issues of custody, maintenance, child support and equitable distribution will continue to need to be resolved.

The hope is that this will allow for an easier process for those parties seeking a divorce. Now the Governor needs to sign this legislation that has passed both houses.

Todd Engel
[email protected]
www.engelatty.com

What to look for when hiring an attorney

When looking to hire a new attorney there are five things you should always consider.

1. Comfort Level

When you initially reach out to the new attorney, are you comfortable with the manner he or she contacts you? Do you actually have the ability to speak with the attorney who will be handling your matter when you call? Are your initial questions answered? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may want to consider looking at additional attorneys. At Engel Law Offices, you will speak to the attorney representing you immediately, there will be no middle man for intake purposes. You will have access via email to that attorney. At Engel Law Offices, communication is the cornerstone to a good attorney client relationship.

2. Size of Office

Can the attorney service your needs fairly? Law firms run the gamut from solo practitioners to firms with hundreds of attorneys. A solo practitioner like myself can represent people with all types of legal needs. Smaller offices can and do provide individualized attention to your needs.  Larger offices may fit your need and if that is so, then utilize their services, but please remember that you are hiring the lawyer and need to be able to have a working relationship with him or her. At Engel Law Offices, effective and quick response times are instrumental to our communication with the client. It is important that you feel that your case is important and that the office is available and accessible to you, the client.

3. What are you looking for?

A lawyer in a general practice can and oftentimes does represent an individual in all aspects of their legal needs. Whether it is buying a new home, selling a business, divorce, or estate planning, a general practitioner can handle those needs for you. Attorneys who specialize are great and having a referral network for a general practitioner to utilize makes sense for those situations when the client needs specialization.  A firm should be small enough to know who you are yet diverse to handle your needs. At Engel Law Offices, we strive to build relationships with our clients so that you will feel like you have a life long lawyer.

4. Does the attorney represent individuals with needs like yours?

When you call for an initial intake, do not hesitate to inquire about the lawyer who will be representing you. All lawyers should be candid with their experience level and comfort level with the fact scenario you place before them. At Engel Law Offices if you call with a matter that is not part of our practice areas, we seek to find you a suitable attorney given your situation.

5. Flat fee/ hourly rate

Economics is an important consideration in any relationship. Presently there is a trend for attorneys to move to a flat fee billing system. What this means is instead of charging an hourly rate for certain services, there is a set fee for the legal work determined at the beginning of the working relationship. If that relationship expands, the attorney may revisit the fee, however when a firm does a flat fee billing system, it is rare for that to happen. This benefits the client because their budget is fixed for purposes of legal fees for a certain matter. At Engel Law Offices, we assess your case and if flat fee billing is appropriate, we utilize that method.

A significant portion of our matters can be handled in this way, including certain aspects of commercial litigation, estate planning, estate administration, business matters, real estate matters, and equine matters can all be billed in a flat fee manner. Personal injury litigation is still based on a contingency fee and those fees can be discusses when you call Engel Law Offices.

Should you be searching for an attorney, please consider Engel Law Offices. We are lengths ahead of the field.

Todd Engel

Engel Law Offices

214 N. State Street                                                               1104 Middleline Road

Syracuse, NY 13203                                                           Ballston Spa, NY 12020

315-295-1450                                                                       518-490-1770

[email protected]

www.engelatty.com

www.twitter.com/toddengel

Why I love being a general practitioner

I love being a general practioner!

I represent corporations and individuals in such a wide and varied area of the law. I handle matters involving business planning and ultimate representation, estate planning, civil litigation, personal injury litigation, real estate, and equine law.  I have and do represent people criminally, as well as in Family Court.

Each day and case offers me a new opportunity to expand my knowledge in the law. But more importantly, it allows me to guide and assist my client in a way that is best for them. While each practice area may be different in scope and focus, the goal at the end of the day is always the same; get the best result for the client.

While each practice area has definite differences, they all excite me and keep me interested and involved. I love that one morning I can be working on a complaint in a personal injury matter and that afternoon I can be working with a family to figure out how best to plan their estate.

The saying goes variety is the spice of life. With my practice, my life is therefore definitely spicy! Which is how I like it.

Todd Engel

Engel Law Offices

[email protected]

Equine Law: Am I Just Horsing Around?

One of my favorite areas of practice is my equine law specialty. No, I am not just horsing around!

Since 1977, my family has owned and raced thoroughbred horses. We have been fortunate enough to race horses throughout North America and presently run horses at Aqueduct. We have raced at tracks from Oaklawn Park to Woodbine in Toronto. We have raced most frequently in the New York circuit. It is a wonderful experience and nothing is quite as thrilling as watching your horse running down the stretch going for the finish line. The question is whether a horse needs a lawyer?

No, the horse doesn’t need a lawyer, but others certainly do. I represent owners with respect to setting up the legal entities that make sense for their needs There needs to be agreements by and between the partners. There needs to be corporate resolutions in order to establish the business entity properly. Remember, while horse racing is a sport, and can be a lot of fun, the ownership of horses is intended to be a business.

If the business is successful, then tax issues are at play. Income taxes, sales tax, and other tax issues are continuously changing and need to be evaluated. The stimulus bill just signed by President Obama has created excellent tax advantages for horse ownership including depreciation of up to $250,000 for horses put into service during 2009. Sales tax issues can be reviewed and assessed dependent upon the state where a sale takes place.

Should a horse become extremely successful, there are additional legal issues to look at. These center around stallion syndication and arrangement of stallion servicing. Negotiating arrangements with the various farms where the stallion is to stand is necessary. Drafting agreements between the owner of the stallions and the owners of the mares is also required.

The racing side also has its need for equine attorneys. Licensing issues for owners, trainers and jockeys are an integral part of equine representation. Should a trainer or jockey have to serve a suspension, quality representation is necessary to protect their rights. Negotiation with the State Racing and Wagering Board can keep a trainer or jockey from having to serve a suspension and therefore keep the trainer or jockey from losing necessary income. Should a hearing be necessary, the lawyer can conduct the examination of witnesses and effectively represent a trainer, owner or jockey in front of the Board.

Horse racing is a thrilling sport. Proper assistance can make sure you remain in the game for the long haul.

Todd Engel

[email protected]

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